Bulletproof PR storytelling tips from a military media officer

June 20, 2023

What can the world of corporate PR learn from top media personnel in the British military? Plenty. Ahead of UK Armed Forces Day on 24th June, we speak to Lesley Woods, Chief Communications Officer (External Campaigns) at the British Ministry of Defence and a part-time RAF reservist. Lesley shares her experiences over eight years in the role, working on creative campaigns that have included partnering with the likes of Disney, Paramount Pictures, Love Island influencers and Tesco.

Q: How do you stay creative with your comms campaigns?

It’s about being creatively curious. If you’re clever about it, you can become part of any conversation. A large part of my role is finding a good story opportunity and having the confidence to push it forward. No one expects the MoD to be doing a major partnership with Disney around the Captain Marvel premier or to send HMS Mersey along to support Eurovision, inviting Ukrainian refugees from the local area on board, as we did this year! Or to be tackling the menopause with TV presenter Kate Thornton. Sometimes those opportunities will come to us, but mostly it’s up to us to think outside the box and make a story happen.

Q: Why are partnerships so important in PR?

Partnerships can open up new avenues for your brand and help you gain authentic buy-in to your comms campaigns. We’ve got a very limited budget, so doing things like working with the James Bond producers to highlight the association between the Bond films and the armed forces gives you the kind of PR that money can’t buy. And clearly, there are benefits to them too from partnering with a trusted organisation like the British armed forces. My philosophy is: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. You will hear “no” a lot, but to me, that’s just an opportunity to redirect our approach.

Q: Why does being emotionally engaging matter?

You want people to support you – so give them a way to do that. If you can bring audiences on side, your campaign will be much more powerful. A good example is a photoshoot we did one Christmas in Afghanistan to illustrate how valuable gifts sent to service personnel can be – in unexpected ways. During a period of intense shelling, doing a kitten puzzle sent in a charity shoebox donated by members of the public helped distract one of my colleagues – a photographer who had come out to cover the conflict – while under heavy fire. After that story about “how a kitten puzzle saved my life” appeared in the press, we were sent more shoeboxes than we could realistically handle!

Q: How do you ‘bulletproof’ a story?

We have a saying in the military: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” You need to think about the context in which your story is landing and what body armour you can put around it, so it lands as you intended without being shot down on the way. But you must be adaptable and roll with the changes. When we did the James Bond story, it reached a different audience to the one originally planned, but we just went with the new direction, and it worked.

Q: How do you get maximum ‘bang for your buck’?

We’ve got to hit a lot of bases with a small team, so we’re always looking to cover as many angles as possible with a PR story, so we’ll be asking questions such as: is there an international perspective, is there a veteran involved, is there a diversity angle (making sure it’s not tokenistic), to name just a few. As well as looking for potential partnerships and press coverage, we’ll be thinking about opportunities across different channels, so tie-ups with podcasts, TV shows, documentaries etc. And I make sure that whoever we’re working with can see “what’s in it for me?” I put a lot of personal equity into the relationships and partnerships to get stakeholders on board.

To read more about bulletproof storytelling, follow Lesley here, or find out more about Infinite Global’s campaigns services here.


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